Author Archives: dustinbbrooks
Now that we’ve been home for a few months and mourned (mostly) the loss of that freedom that one only acquires while on the road, I’ve decided that it’s time to finish, or at least continue our blog/journal from the road. I’m writing this now because I’m really missing the open road, but also because I feel like I must do justice to all these beautiful people and places we visited by sharing them with you who have supported us before and during our journey and continue to support us now that we are back. And yes, this is a post by me (Dustin), so it won’t be as eloquently written as Chelsea’s posts, but it will include lots of pictures 🙂
After leaving New York and the Adirondack Park we took a ferry across Lake Champlain and into Vermont. The scenery was just like a post card! Rolling green hills and secluded farm houses as far as the eye could see. It felt like we were in a Cabot Cheese commercial. We strolled along the rolling hills, East towards the Green Mountains. The approach of the mountains was bitter sweet. We knew that climbing the mountains would get us to our lovely friends Crystal and Dwayne for some R&R, but it also meant the beginning of mountain climbing for pretty much the rest of the journey. Besides a few climbs in the Adirondacks we hadn’t had any huge mountain passes since the Rockies. I think the promise of home-made fish fry from Crystal and Dwayne was the only thing that got us up and over those Green Mountains.
Our first night in Vermont we were exhausted from riding uphill all day. We couldn’t find our campsite and it was beginning to get dark, In hind site, I don’t think the campsite still exists (Thanks a lot Adventure Cycling maps). Luckily for us we came across the Pumpkin Patch Bed and Breakfast where the very kind proprietors Rich & Debbie Mathiesen graciously allowed us to camp in their back yard; they even gave us access to a spare room for showering/bathroom needs. Rich also greeted us in the morning and offered up some detour advice regarding a road closure on our route. Thank you so much Rich and Debbie!!
After we left the Pumpkin Patch we headed directly uphill for a long day of climbing, trying to get as close to Crystal and Dwayne’s house as possible so that we could call our rescue wagon (Crystal and her new cargo van) to come pick us up and take us home to the fish fry promise land. When we’d had enough climbing for one day we stopped at a campsite near a river, swam a little, and waited for Crystal to rescue us and take us home to her place where we ate, rested, fished, ate some more, did i say rested, and laughed and carried on together in what will forever be known as the “New England Slam”.
Leaving Crystal and Dwayne was very hard for us, but we new we had to push on if we were going to get to the East coast and finish our tour before the weather started getting colder. We still had the White Mountains of New Hampshire ahead of us and the dreaded Kancamagus Pass to climb, and then the steep hills of Maine before we’d reach the Atlantic Coast and the end of our Journey. Thank you so much Crystal and Dwayne, and all of our new Vermont friends! We love and miss you and think about you guys constantly.
Some more Vermont pictures:
Do you know where Dalbo, MN is? I assume not since people within a 20-mile radius of Dalbo don't even know where it is.
It's a small town — population 80 — at the intersection of SR47 and SR6 in Eastern Minnesota; the streets are lined with old barns and silos, much like many of the places we've been riding through for the past 10 weeks. There's more or less not a lot going on, so rolling up to Don Olson's Adventure Cyclist bunkhouse in the middle of SR47 to find a 100-year-old barn (completed with silo!) converted into a cyclist's dreamhouse with cots and fresh eggs and a toaster and a shower that Don built himself was like a dream.
You know that scene in Cinderella when she swoops into the castle and spins around and magic is in the air as she finds herself surrounded by so much luxury? That's how I felt entering Don Olson's bunkhouse — like a road cycling Disney princess. There was a refrigerator with cheese in it! Fresh cheese — for free — for me! Just because. (Yes!) There was a toaster so that we could have toasted bread! (Yes!) There were other cyclists!! (Yes!!) Just hanging out looking at maps and drinking coffee — because there was also a coffee maker! (YES!!!) For a cyclist who's been living in a tent the size of a twin-size bed with another adult for 10 weeks, Don Olson's bunkhouse is like Cinderella's magic castle.
If you've never spent 10 weeks living in a tent and off only the things you can carry, you may not be able to relate when I refer to toasted bread, cereal with cold milk and a shower that runs at whatever temperature the sun dictates as “magic.” That's fair. On the other hand, if you have cycle toured The States before and you've never been to Don Olson's bunkhouse, please go. It's free (!) and the experience is priceless.
Why Don Olson Has Restored My Faith in Humanity
So, once the inital Disneyland-esque head rush wore off and I was finished with my actually-quite-warm hose shower and my cereal and my toast and my coffee I found myself sitting in a real piece of apolstered furniture fat, happy and overwhelmed with gratitude for a man who transformed his father's 100-year-old barn into a safehaven for adventureres traversing through the middle of nowhere. Just because.
He told us that he wanted to keep the barn alive and that the best way to keep it standing was to use it, and this — opening it up to shelter strangers — seemed like the best way to use it.
Don hung out with us (while I was there Dustin and I shared the bunkhouse with four other cyclists; Ted and John — a pair riding together who D and I met earlier in our ride when we were sleeping behind a bar in alightning storm (worth mentioning again), Tom — a fellow on a recumbant from MN we'd run into earlier in the trip around the Continental Divide, and John — a teacher from Texas who started riding with Tom around the middle of MN) and he told us stories about the barn, and the military, and past cyclists, and his wife, and his life. He made sure the coffee never ran out and offered to drive us to the store if we needed anything. He gave us real towels (yes!) and eggs and toast, and footed the bill for all of it, asking only that we sign the gustbook before we leave.
I like living in a world where people do nice things for other people just because. Where people trust one another; where no one takes advantage; where the community meets in the middle to share stories in passing. That is the place where I want to live; that's how I want to create my life; those are the people I want to surround myself with.
It's selfless people like Don Olson who pave the path and create footsteps in which to follow.
I loved the toaster and the coffee maker and all the non-Thoreauean creature comforts the Bunkhouse had to offer me, but what I really loved the most about the bunkhouse was the big fat human experience hug I received inside those barn walls. Something that I will keep with me always, and refer back to often, as I return to my normal life and the icy shitstorm that can be shopping at Costco (or other such scenarios that represent civilization is at its worst).
Don Olson reminded me that you choose who want to be, how you want to interact with others, and how you want to embrace your community — and those simply passing through. Don Olson is the Mother Theresa of Minnesota and I will think of him and his bunkhouse often when I am feeling like humanity is spiraling downward, and when I am making my who, how, here and now choices.
Some Pictures From Don Olson's Adventure Cycling Bunkhouse:
This extremely blown-out moccasin/slipper was spotted outside Petoskey, MI. I estimate that it was this well worn down long before it was lost on the road and run over by all manor of vehicles. Because of this, we can only assume that it will be truly missed by its owner.
On a lighter note; the moccasin was spotted right next to this beautiful quarry pond. The torquois water was extremely inviting, like a tropical lagoon, but we had to resist as this water is almost certainly filled with bacteria and/or all manner of industrial pollutants.
These are awesome! We’ve talked about these lights before in a previous post about bicycle touring luxury items, but i no longer consider these a “luxury” item; they are now considered as one of our daily usage and necessity items. We’ve used these lights daily as the primary source of light in our tent.
They’re bright enough for reading with. We use them in place of a lantern most nights. However, they’re not too bright, like a lantern would be; instead, they provide a nice warm, ambient glow in the tent, much like that of a favorite coffee house reading nook.
They’re LED, so they don’t require much energy usage. Three AA batteries gives you over 300 hours of continuous burn time. In fact, we use these nightly (when camping) and only needed to replace the batteries last week; that’s approximately 2 months of usage for 30 mins or longer per night. When the batteries do start to die, they go into a dim function and change colors less often, but can still be used for quite a while before they completely die.
They are pretty durable. We keep them wrapped around the top, inside pocket of our tent and roll them up with the tent everyday. I don’t take any special care or precautions when rolling them up in the tent; I just roll the tent up just like i would if they were’nt in there. I’ve done this every day since the beginning of our tour and we haven’t had any issues…the lights are as good as new.
They’re super light weight; only 4.5 oz without the batteries. They basically weigh only slightly more than the weight of the batteries needed to operate them.
They’re fun! Besides providing good reading light. They also change colors, making our tent kinda disco’y (yes, thats a word i just created), but not too annoying like sleeping next a window that faces the Vegas strip.
It’s been a while since we served up some shoe of the day to you. We haven’t had as much luck spotting shoes on the country back roads we’ve been taking lately. It seems that shoes are mostly lost on interstates and busier highways. I’ll also admit that I’ve passed up a lot of shoes because I’ve been cycling at a great pace and didn’t want to stop to get a picture…sorry!
Today the universe provided us with a bountiful gift to make up for our laziness and to reward your patience with us. I give to you the extremely rare, roadside shoe tree.
I’ll admit, when it comes to sleeping pads i’ve been really picky. Chelsea doesn’t seem to care as much, but for me picking the right sleeping pad is essential. It’s already hard enough sleeping somewhere other than your own soft bed, but sometimes the wrong sleeping pad can be worse than just sleeping directly on the ground. Finding the right sleeping pad for me meant trial and error. I felt a little like goldilocks;this one’s too small, this one’s too high, short, puffy, warm, etc.
The first pad i tried was the Big Agnes Q-Core SL Sleeping Pad.
I selected this pad because it had very high ratings/reviews and it’s super ligt weight. It’s a pretty expensive pad, but we used some clever REI discounts and sales and got a great deal on it (Chelsea is an amazing bargain shopper). After a few trial runs on this pad i decided it wasn’t for me. I loved the super light weight feature, but i felt like the pad was too high off the ground and way too narrow. I felt like i was sleeping on a 2 x 4 all night and would roll off the side at any given minute. This made for a very uncomfortable sleep. I think part of the reason it’s so narrow is that the pad is made to fit inside a pocket on the bottom of Big Agnes sleeping bags, in a way that prevents the bag and pad from moving when you turn during your sleep.I actually had a big agnes sleeping bag and used them in conjunction, but i still had that “sleeping on the edge of a cliff” feeling, and would wake up jammed in the crack between the edge of the pad and the sleeping bag…anyone who has slept on a waterbed before knows this feeling. So this pad was out…too narrow for me.
The next pad a tried was a heavy, yacht sized REI pad, the REI Camp Bed 3.5 Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad.
This pad was extra wide and truly comfortable. I had found my perfect pad; or so i thought. Turns out the pad is so wide that it doesn’t fit into our tent with Chelsea’s pad, or pretty much any other pad. Our tent is a fairly small backpacking tent, so there’s not a lot of floor space for my deluxe yacht sleeping pad. This REI pad also had an issue of weight and size. I doesn’t roll up very compact and weighs about 5x’s that of the Big Agnes pad. I was willing to carry the size and weight in exchange for the comfort, but the fact that it meant Chelsea would have to sleep outside of the tent was a deal breaker 😉 So for that reason, the REI pad was out.
After a little more searching around for the perfect pad we discovered (remembered) that we actually already own some good sleeping pads and had forgotten that they were packed away in the garage; Therm-a-Rest Trail Scout Sleeping Pad.
These pads seemed perfect, and guess what, my picky self had already gotten the long/wide version, so no sleeping “on the edge” feeling for me. It was decided, these were the sleeping pads we would take on the trip with us…and we did! After a few nights using the pads on our trip we noticed that we were both waking up sweaty in the middle of the night and sticking to our sleeping bag. At first we thought it was just really warm weather, after all we were camping in the Summer season. We also thought this heat could be from our sleeping bag, it’s rated at 30 degrees. However, after laying on just the pads by themselves it was decided that our sleeping pads were holding in way too much heat and this was the cause of our waking up feeling like we slept in a sauna. We stuck it out with these pads for about a month until we came across the next mega-sized sporting goods store in Fargo, ND. at which point we swapped our pads out for a lighter insulation rated Therm-a-rest pad
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture WV sleeping pad.
This is the pad we’re still using at this point in our trip and i’m happy to say that we are sleeping much more comfortably, and don’t wke up sweaty and hot every night. We sent our old pads home, as these are still great pads and will definitely get some use when camping in colder climates/seasons. We’re constantly learning new things on this trip and are so grateful for this opportunity and lessons. For more information about these pads, click the links within the post and go to the “specs” tabs on the REI website. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more product updates.
Earlier in this blog we mentioned our stove, the MSR Dragonfly. This was and still is a great stove. However, we decided to send this stove home and replace it with a new, smaller, and more simpler stove, the MSR Pocket Rocket. This decision was based on a few factors which I’ll expand on in a moment. First let me give you the pros and cons of each of these stoves.
Uses camp fuel (white gas) which is available anywhere in the U.S.; has a large sturdy base, perfect for large pots/pans and cooking on uneven ground; folds up compact; separate adjustments for fuel and flame make this stove perfect for the campground gourmet (which I am not) to cook full blast torch or slow simmer.
Separate bulky fuel bottle needed, which adds substantially to overall camp-kitchen weight/size in panniers; white gas spills a lot causing everything in panniers to smell of gas, and even ruined some silicon kitchen utensils; stove needs priming before each use, and is SUPER FINICKY and FRUSTRATING; Sound, this thing sounds like a helicopter taking off, loud is an understatement, not camp friendly for boiling water early in the morning.
Pocket Rocket pros:
Uses Isobutane fuel canisters, no priming needed, just turn on and light; compact size, can literally fit in your pants pocket; adjustable flame valve from simmer to full boil.
Pocket Rocket cons:
Uses Isobutane fuel canisters, which I’ve heard can be hard to come by, especially on the Eastern side of the U.S., so far I’ve seen them in every sporting goods store in every state since we left Washington (we’re in Minnesota now); fore mentioned fuel canisters take up room in Panniers; stove is very unstable, even on flat ground, balancing pots/pans while actively cooking is truly an art to master.
We decided to send our Dragon Fly stove home because of it’s size, sound, and mostly because it always seemed like a hassle to take out, put together, and prime. Some times we avoided making a meal because we were just to tired to go through the production of coking with this stove. Also, there were times when the stove would go out during the priming process and we had to wait 15-20mins for it to cool down enough to prime again and potentially go out again. For that reason alone I was just over using this stove. The Pocket Rocket has been so much easier to use so far, and while it doesn’t have a wind guard (it still performs pretty well in high winds) and is extremely unstable, it’s still far less frustrating and far less hassle then the Dragonfly. Also, I really like the extra space I’ve gained in my pannier with the smaller stove. I still plan to keep my Dragon Fly stove and believe it’s a great stove, it’s just not the best stove for bicycle touring IMO. It’s only been about a week since swapping the stoves out, I’ll update this post after using the Pocket Rocket more and let you know if I still believe that we made the right choice.
We found a lost flip-flop in Bay View, and then this gem around Rock Port. (We've noticed that, apparently, people in the country prefer to keep track of both their shoes significanlty more than people in the city.) (They do not prefer to keep track of both their gloves, though. We've seen so many of those!)